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September 22, 2023

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) welcomed its first cohort of students as a part of a pilot of the Native American Research Assistantship (NARA) Program this summer. Electa Hare-RedCorn was mentored by scientists from the New England and New York Water Science Centers and taught USGS scientific protocols related to water data networks.

NARA is a professional development program established by The Wildlife Society, an international nonprofit organization that supports wildlife professionals in their efforts to address conservation issues through science-based management. The NARA program facilitates research assistantships for undergraduate and graduate students from First Nations or Tribes interested in becoming wildlife managers, biologists, scientists, or policy makers. Previously, students were only placed with mentors at the U.S. Forest Service, but the USGS joined the NARA partnership for the first time in 2023 and hosted students on three projects.

A woman sits at a desk looking at a laptop screen next to another woman in a flowered shirt.

"The USGS becoming a part of the NARA program allows us to more fully meet our Federal trust responsibility with Tribal and First Nation partners, meet our overall mission, and connect members of one of the most underserved populations in our country to USGS science and methods,” said Jason Sorenson, a hydrologist at the New England Water Science Center and the Tribal Liaison for USGS’ Northeast Region. “USGS needs guidance and support to meet this administration's mandate to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge (IK) into our science. Working with Tribal citizens like Electa, we have gained insight into how to go about this process in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.”

The USGS mentors for the project at New England and New York Water Science Centers focused on teaching a Native student our agency’s techniques and methods for operating and maintaining water data networks. This project specifically provided on-the-job training to operate and maintain long-term USGS data-collection stations, including groundwater-monitoring wells, streamgages, tide-elevation gages and water-quality stations.

Hare-RedCorn is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and a descendant of the Ihanktonwan Dakota tribal communities. She works for Oklahoma Tribal Engagement Partners and is a University of Arkansas graduate student in public policy, concentrating on strengthening the capacity for Tribes to write policy based on their culture and perspectives of the natural world.

“What I hope to bring to this project is the understanding that Indigenous data should be cared for ethically and responsibly,” said Hare-RedCorn. “There are other people like me, other graduate students out there in ecology, who have developed principals of research when working with Indigenous communities—it’s a model that definitely applies to the vision of this project.”

The assistantship included drafting a USGS general information product (GIP), which lays out a vision for a Tribally-owned-and-operated data network. The GIP was co-written by Sorenson and Rob Breault, the Director of the New York Water Science Center.

“We saw from the same viewpoint,” Hare-RedCorn said of Breault and Sorenson. “We wanted to make sure that the research project we put together and the story we tell is about our status as Sovereign Nations and the scientific practices that we have been doing for centuries, but in a way that melds it with the potential partnerships.”

Hare-RedCorn started out the internship in New England in late June. In Massachusetts, she learned about water-quality sensor buoy maintenance in the Merrimack River Estuary and toured the S.O. Conte Research Laboratory, a part of the USGS Eastern Ecological Science Center.  Hare-RedCorn also conducted level surveys and attended a cooperative meeting in Rhode Island. Then, she ventured to New York in July and visited the Onondaga Nation when USGS staff obtained measurements from a real-time streamgage on Onondaga Creek.

Teaching Tribal partners how to collect and manage their own water data is important, and Hare-RedCorn said she has seen students of Indigenous backgrounds study water science and bring that knowledge back to their communities.  Likewise, Hare-RedCorn intends to take what she learns from USGS back to her university as well as Tribal colleges that are starting their own natural resources and agricultural programs.

“Water is precious to us; it is not just a resource to use, it’s a relative,” said Hare-RedCorn. “We want to get to know our water better, and this is one way we can appreciate it by understanding it more. We need [Indigenous] people to have the technical training, and we need the educated and informed policy people to make sure it happens and fully embrace what this partnership could mean.”


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